Archives for posts with tag: Maryland Womens Basketball

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The Maryland Women’s basketball team is on a mission.  After six straight trips to the Sweet Sixteen that included a pair of Final Four berths, the Terps are looking to shake off consecutive first-weekend NCAA Tournament exits.  Brenda Frese’s bunch gritted its way to last winter’s Big Ten Regular Season title before flaming out in March, and all five starters return to be joined by a top-five recruiting class. The result?  A Preseason No. 4 ranking for the Big Ten favorites. “Big thing I’ll say about this team is that they’re a team of competitors,” Frese said. “Their practices in between the summer and going into the fall have been some of the most competitive practices I’ve seen in a while.”

The Terps will be led once again by Kaila Charles.  The senior has started all 103 games in her career, and has led the team in scoring the last two seasons.  “The last couple years-as she goes, we go,” Frese said. “Nothing really changes at the top. She’ll do a great job leading this talented and really young team.”  The Preseason First Team All-American  has played bigger than her 6-foot-1 frame since coming to campus, and hopes to shore up the one area where she hasn’t shined:  three point-shooting.  She’s made 7 of 25 in her career (and was just 1 for 14 last year), but vows this season will be different.  “I’ve been working on it all summer; I’ve been working on it all three years.” Charles said. “I just think it’s my mentality. I just need to shoot it. I don’t need to think ‘is it gonna go in?'”

If Charles isn’t able to improve her perimeter play, fear not.  Because sophomore sharpshooter Taylor Mikesell is back after claiming Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last winter when she made 41% of her threes.  As the case with most who come through Brenda Frese’s program, Mikesell has become more than just an offensive force.  “She already has made a huge jump on the defensive end.  That was areas last year that would pull her off the floor,” Frese said. “This year is actually going to be easier for her-I anticipate she won’t see the box-and-one and the face-guards. She’s gonna have a lot more freedom to just shoot the ball.”

Mikesell isn’t the only sophomore who’s expected to make a pronounced leap from first-year supporting player to primary contributor.  Six-foot-five center Shakira Austin came off the bench in the early season before eventually becoming a starter as a freshman, eventually earning Honorable Mention and All-Defensive Big Ten honors.  While her skills in the post were obvious (she averaged 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game), Austin worked hard at improving her offensive skills (she hit 43% of her shots last year) in the offseason.  “I just feel like I should be able to dominate this year in the post,” Austin said. “Last year I felt I lost a lot of confidence–I wasn’t able to go up strong.”  Coach Brenda Frese has noticed a marked difference. “She is stronger, she can finish through contact,” Frese said. “She is making plays in the low post that we were hoping is where she was going to get to.”

That trio, in addition to defensive dynamo Blair Watson and point guard Channise Lewis, will be bolstered by a recruiting class ranked third in the nation by prospectsnation.com and hoopgurlz on espnW. “I think the thing you’ll see with our team first and foremost is our size. We have tremendous length both on the perimeter, point guard positions, wings, inside,” Frese said. “The talent level has really increased. We have depth at every single position.”  Even with the loss of five-star guard Zoe Young to a torn ACL for the season, the new class has made an impression. “They’re incredible-they want to work and they want to win,” Taylor Mikesell said. “So it’s just great to have them. We have four really good freshmen here.”

While the future is on campus, the team got a chance to see the past as well as their potential futures earlier this fall when the Washington Mystics won the WNBA championship.  While the Mystics boasted three Maryland graduates plus two players who transferred out of the Terps program, the Connecticut Sun had two more former Terps on its roster. “Our current players currently have those dreams that now our alums are living out,” Frese said. “It’s a tremendous example for them:  if you work hard, if you come in the gym, you’re here early, you stay late-these are the things that you can possibly have if that pro career is something a goal of yours.”

The season offers up the usual tests, with one early indicator of how far this team has come and how much further they have to go.  Sunday, November 10 brings No. 8 South Carolina to Xfinity Center.  Their other big pre-conference test will be at No. 14 NC State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. League play starts December 28 against No. 25 Michigan.  But at Maryland once again, it’s March that matters.

 

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There are those who will be saying with Maryland showing up ranked ninth by the writers and tenth by the coaches in the preseason that the Terps are back.  If so, when exactly did they leave?  It says a lot about a program’s high standards when a 26-8 season plus a trip to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game and a loss in the NCAA Tournament Second Round registers as a “less than ideal year”.  Since the Terrapins broke through and won the 2006 National Championship, they’ve been a deep March fixture.  Players change, from Kristi Toliver to Alyssa Thomas.  Assistants change, from Jeff Walz to Tina Langley.  Conferences and rivals change, from Duke in the ACC to Ohio State in the Big Ten.  Arena names even change for Comcast to Xfinity.  But with a few rare exceptions every March coach Brenda Frese has her team in contention for conference titles as well as playing to reach the third weekend of the Big Dance.

 

Last winter Maryland was hamstrung with graduations (All-Americans Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones) and transfers (National Freshman of the Year Destiny Slocum the big loss) as well as injuries (Blair Watson’s torn ACL torpedoed hopes for a fourth straight Big Ten title).  This fall coach Frese has reloaded with two highly touted freshmen plus a transfer to fill out a roster with four returning starters.  “I don’t know if a coach is ever comfortable going into a season because I think we always see our holes and weaknesses,” coach Frese said, “but I think the ones we couldn’t cover up last year we’ve been able to fill.”  In other words, the Terps are back–picked to finish first in the Preseason Big Ten poll.

Junior Kaila Charles enters her third year as a starter.  The Glenn Dale, Maryland native went from peripheral contributor as a freshman to primary weapon as a sophomore, leading the team with 18 points and 8 rebounds per game last winter.  “She really grew up and became a leader for us last season,” Frese said. “We’re sliding her a little bit more so out on the perimeter–really looking to use her versatility.”

For Charles to be able to flex outside, the coach needs more consistent production from the likes of senior Brianna Fraser and junior Stephanie Jones.  Both showed flashes last year.  If not, bring on freshman phenom Shakira Austin.  “She gives us a look that we didn’t have last year,” Frese said. “The size, the ability and the talent.  Six-foot-five.  Long, fluid, active—and really has a chance to be really special in our program.”  Two years behind Charles at nearby Riverdale Baptist, Austin might not be thrown into the starting lineup like her fellow alum was as a freshman but will definitely see major minutes as the season progresses.

The other impact freshman, Taylor Mikesell, started both exhibitions for the Terps.  The guard from Masillon, Ohio has already made her mark as one of the program’s hardest workers.  “The biggest problem I have is trying to get her out of the gym,” Frese said. “Whether it be shooting the ball from the three-point line or her ball-handling, she’s going to be able to give us a lot of versatility at the off-guard and point guard position.”  Sophomore Channise Lewis started at the point last season and averaged six assists per game while learning the college game on the fly;  she’s back a little wiser.

The X factor this season may rest once again on the ACL of Blair Watson.  The junior was just beginning to blossom when she went down to injury last January, and was fully cleared for practice last month.  At her best, Watson is the difference-maker on both ends of the floor that every championship-level team needs.  If we’ve learned anything from previous knee injuries to Terps from Lauryn Mincy to Brene Moseley, it takes more than a calendar year for a player to return to form.  But Watson on limited minutes could be a huge weapon off the bench this winter.

The pre-conference slate includes a road game at #10 South Carolina as well as games against Georgia and Georgia Tech.  League play tips off at Penn State December 28th, and this year’s Big Ten will feature a rebuilding Ohio State (minus Kelsey Mitchell and the crew that won the league last year) as one of five schools also receiving votes in the preseason rankings.  The only other conference school currently in either Top 25 is Iowa (rated 13th by the writers and 17th by the coaches).

 

So… how IS your bracket faring?  Did you have Virginia playing Purdue in the championship game like I did only to put Arizona in the Final Four when you learned that De’Andre Hunter was done for the year?  Did you bet on the wrong blue-bloods to advance?  Did you out-think the system?  Welcome aboard, friends.  Far from chalk- the NCAA Regionals resemble more survive than advance.

History has a strange way of coming back to bite you.- Virginia was #1 this winter for the first time since 1982 when the top-ranked Cavaliers lost to Chaminade.  Ryan Odom (son of then-assistant and future Wake Forest coach Dave Odom) was a ball-boy for that team.  Fast-forward 35 years and Odom the younger leads UMBC over UVa in not only an upset of the ages, but a smackdown to remember.  This wasn’t just a last-second shot or an errant pass, but a 20-point beatdown.  The Cavaliers go home knowing everybody knows they’re the first number one seed to lose to a #16 (and truth be told, if we still had the old 64-school bracket UMBC would have been a #15 and the Cavaliers would have face 15-19 Texas Southern).  I attended Syracuse and we got grief for 15 years about the Orange being the first #2 seed to lose to a #15…even after other schools had followed suit.  Even after SU had finally won a National Championship.  Tony Bennett will take a long look at himself and his coaching style.  And then he’ll come out of the summer of his discontent focused and ready to lead another Virginia team to 15+ wins in the ACC and threaten again next March.

One Sorry City- so much for Skyline Chili owning the month.  Xavier and Cincinnati both blew late leads in Second Round losses.  There’s nothing the fan bases of either school enjoys more than taking delight in their inner-city rival’s misery.  This winter it goes both ways.

Conference Call- the Big 12 and ACC each have four schools remaining, while the Big Ten and SEC have two teams left in the bracket.  The Pac-12?  Gone midway through the first round.  Mad props to the Summit, Mountain West and West Coast Conferences for having a school still in the field.  Rumor was the Big East was thinking about taking credit for Syracuse and West Virginia, but it would also mean they’d be saddled with Pitt.

Planting Seeds- they say figures do not lie but liars do figure.  While we’ve lost a pair of #1’s and two more #2’s, seven of the top 16 schools are still in the field.  And if you go one step further, there are three #5’s–meaning 10 of the top 20 schools are still around and as the difference between a #4 and a #5 is often microscopic you could make the case that 10 of the top 16 teams are still around.  While Loyola (Chicago) is a true Cinderella as a #11 (and needed a couple of miracle plays thanks to their 90-something year old Chaplain), Syracuse is far from an upstart despite their place as “the last at-large team in the bracket”.  Just like two years ago when they made the Final Four as a #10 seed, this is a case of a school that is peaking at the right time after a less than awesome regular season.

Different Paths- Kentucky may have been upset at their #5 seed with Virginia, Cincinnati and Arizona in their region one week ago.  Today those three schools have all been eliminated and the talented-but-young Wildcats are the favorites to win the South.  If you go by seeding numbers (5+7+9+11) of the survivors the South has a Madness rating of 32, highest of the bunch (for comparison, the West has a M rating of 23 while the Midwest owns a 19–and the East is one over chalk at 11).  Michigan looks to continue its incredible run (11 straight wins) in a West that has the tournament darlings-Loyola-as well as the gold standard of Cinderellas:  Gonzaga.  But this Bulldogs team is one that knows how to get to a Final Four (see last year).  Kansas is playing in Omaha–but is in ACC country with Duke, Clemson and Syracuse rounding out the regional–and has memories of being upset in tournament games close to home (Kansas City last year, Omaha in 2015, St Louis in 2014, Oklahoma City in 2010).  Villanova has the roughest road with West Virginia looming in a true contrast of styles–and I’m only referring to Jay Wright’s Italian suits against Bob Huggins’ tents and khakis.

Sunday Night Hoops- I still wish they got rid of the late Sunday game.  Did we need to see West Virginia meet Marshall at 9:40 p.m. on a Sunday?  After four days of great hoops, couldn’t we have ended after the 8:40 tilt?  All one has to do is shuffle the times and move the 7:10-9:40 doubleheader to 2:10-4:40.  It would give fans more hoops in the afternoon (especially if one of the early stand-alone games becomes a dog like Saturday) and put a nice bow on the weekend.

Maryland Women’s Season- the Terps ended the 2017-18 campaign with a 74-60 loss at North Carolina State in the Second Round this past Sunday.  This was hardly an ideal campaign:  not only did coach Brenda Frese have to compensate for losing two All-Americans to graduation, but the Terrapins also lost their best returning player to transfer (Destiny Slocum) while three others left the program.  Of those departures, one came back to haunt the Terps:  Kiara Leslie after graduating in three years at Maryland wanted to finish her career near her hometown of Holly Springs, NC.  She finished second in scoring this season for NC State before scoring 21 points against her former team.  Leslie sat out last season with an injury and had already made plans to transfer when Slocum, Kiah Gillespie and Jenna Staiti decided to go elsewhere.  If Leslie had stayed she would have been a big piece on a shorthanded team that lost Blair Watson to injury in January, but that’s why hindsight remains 20-20.  The Terps have another great recruiting class (#3, #32 and #33 prospects are headed to College Park) coming in and if Watson returns healthy this crew will challenge for the Big Ten title again next winter.

 

 

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The Maryland Women’s Basketball program has been a model of consistency over the last decade.  Since winning the 2006 National Championship, coach Brenda Frese’s Terps have advanced to a pair of Final Fours and have made the NCAA Tournament in ten of eleven seasons all while getting accustomed to as well as dominating a new conference (a 58-3 mark and three Big Ten Tournament championships don’t lie).  However, the theory of “Maryland doesn’t rebuild, it reloads” will be tested this winter.  The Terps graduated a pair of All-Americans in Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones while also losing National Freshman of the Year Destiny Slocum to transfer.  The projected depth will take a hit as well, as three reserves also left the program.  The lack of experience and roster size (nine until transfer Eleanna Christinaki becomes eligible December 20th) reminds one of the 2009-10 season that ended in the WNIT.

Returning are a pair of starters who were complimentary pieces last winter:  senior Kristin Confroy and sophomore Kaila Charles.  Charles came in as a freshman and started as the “fourth guard”, finishing second on the team in rebounding.  “Kaila is one of our dominant leaders,” coach Brenda Frese said, “she wants the ball and wants the pressure.  You see how explosive she is-she’s a matchup nightmare from that wing-forward position.”  Charles was voted to the Preseason All-Big Ten team.  Confroy brings 60 career starts back to a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience, and hopes to provide wisdom to a young squad.  “I’ve been to a Final Four. I’ve seen what doesn’t work in our early departures from the last couple tournaments,” Confroy said, “(I hope to) share that with them and hopefully make that so we don’t have to learn those lessons the hard way.”  On the court, Confroy also will provide production from the perimeter:  the guard ranked tenth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting last winter.

Getting Charles and Confroy the ball with be a pair of point guards:  to start the season the offense will be in the hands of sophomore Sarah Myers and freshman Channise Lewis.  The six-foot-one Myers brings added rebounding for a team that’s playing a four-guard lineup, while Lewis is expected to add the spark similar to previous freshmen who have played the point for coach Brenda Frese:  Kristi Toliver, Chloe Pavlech, Lexie Brown and Destiny Slocum each came into College Park and excelled running the offense their first winter on campus.

 

Up front the Terps plan to rely on junior Brianna Fraser and sophomore Stephanie Jones.  Each notched a double-double in the Terps’ season-opening win over Albany Friday night.  “Big things for Brianna Fraser,” coach Frese said, “she has worked extremely hard and when she puts her mindset in the right direction and plays at the highest level she can’t be stopped.”  One key as the team gets into Big Ten play for Fraser will be staying out of foul trouble; the forward from Brooklyn fouled out opening night against the Great Danes.  Stephanie Jones is the younger sister of Brionna, and while she doesn’t have the former Terp’s ridiculously sick collection of low-post moves she appears to be the athletic forward (Laura Harper, Alyssa Thomas) that Maryland teams in the past have needed en route to deep NCAA runs.  Stephanie feels the team’s participation in the World University Games in Taiwan will help. “We were able to grow a lot as a team because we had all of those early practices and play together in Taiwan.  Just to get a snapshot of how it was going to be (playing together) for the rest of the year, so I think we really grew as a team over there.”

They’ll need that cohesiveness before conference play tips off December 28th against Illinois as the schedule begins with a bang.  After losing to defending National Champion South Carolina 94-86, Maryland visits perennial power UConn Sunday, November 19th.. “I think in all my years here probably our toughest non-conference schedule we’ve ever had.  We’re gonna know where we are early, which will prepare us for conference schedule and the postseason,” coach Frese said,”To be the best you’ve got to play the best, and so we’re excited about the games on our schedule.”  The Gamecocks come to College Park Monday, November 13th.  While we’ll learn a lot about this team over the first month of the schedule, we won’t find out if this is a rebuilding or reloading season until the Big Ten Battles of the new year.  Ohio State is the preseason favorite and is the only school to beat the Terps since they joined the conference.  ESPN.COM’s projection has seven schools from Big Ten advancing to the NCAA Tournament.  Maryland is one of them–for now.

 

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Brenda Frese enters her 15th season at the helm in College Park.  She’s built a program that’s won ACC and Big Ten titles…while becoming a fixture in the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four.  This fall she welcomes the number one recruiting class-and if there’s anyone who can successfully maximize six freshmen and a transfer into a 31-win team, it’s Frese. “For me, this is my favorite part,” Frese said, “blending the pieces…figuring out who goes where…what their strengths are and forming your team.”  She has a history of making things work:  the 2006 National Championship team featured two freshmen starters and Frese’s 2014 Final Four team received major contributions from multiple freshmen.

The freshmen from the 2014 Final Four team are now seniors.  Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had a breakout junior campaign, averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds per game while leading the team in blocked shots and finishing second in steals.  Each season the Aliquippa, PA product has come back with extra wrinkles to her game.  What is Shatori looking to add this fall?  “Be that puzzle piece…or that flexible, that versatile player coach needs me to be,” Walker-Kimbrough said, “if she needs me to rebound or strictly defend, be that player.”  Brionna Jones is the other senior on this roster…and the low-post fixture averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds as a junior with the highlight reel of a 24 point performance against #1 UConn.  Both Walker-Kimbrough and Jones are more than just productive on the floor. “What I’ve been most impressed from them with has been the leadership piece- of blending these six freshmen and our new players,” Frese said, “we are definitely playing for these two seniors this season.”

 

The Terps incoming freshman class boasts both quantity and quality:  the six-player class is headlined by Meridian, Idaho’s Destiny Slocum.  “Her motor is just incredible,” junior guard Kristen Confroy said,”she just runs all over the place. And her talent as a basketball player is largely due to her openness to learning-she’s always asking questions.  I’m really excited to play with her.”  Slocum’s one of three five-star recruits in the six-player class:  six-foot-five Jenna Staiti will provide depth down low while wing players Blair Watson and Kaila Charles will add perimeter presence on both ends of the floor.

In the Terps’ two preseason games, both Slocum and Charles started while all six saw extensive time on the floor.  What also helped the blending of the incoming talent to an already stacked roster was the team’s summer trip to Italy.  “It just really helped because we really got some game feel,” Slocum said, “and just being in an uncomfortable area and a place we didn’t know.  Which is an important part of bonding-on and off the floor.”  With upperclassmen Kiara Leslie and Aja Ellison redshirting due to injuries, it’s that much more important for the new kids to contribute.

Different year, similar expectations.  The Maryland women’s basketball team starts the 2016-17 season as Big Ten favorites and in the top ten nationally (#6 in the writers’ rankings, #5 in the coaches’ poll).  “We really don’t talk about rankings or preseason and where people select us,” Frese said,”because for us…obviously we want to be there at the end.  For us it’s just about getting better.”  The Big Ten boasts a new-found nemesis in Ohio State as the Buckeyes beat the Terps twice last year but finished behind Maryland in the standings and were upset in the conference tournament.  They begin the year ranked one spot behind the Terrapins in both national polls.  Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan are also expected to contend for NCAA Tournament berths.  Two non-conference games jump off the schedule:  a December 1st trip to #5 Louisville in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge…and a December 29th showdown in College Park against four-time defending champ UConn.

 

 

 

The Maryland Womens basketball team (31-4) didn’t expect to see their season end so soon.  The Terps were seeded second in the Lexington Regional and were focused on reaching a third straight Final Four.  Or at least a fifth straight Sweet Sixteen.  Instead, they ran into a Washington zone that kept them off balance all evening in a 74-65 loss.

The Terps were at the top of the Big Ten in field goal percentage-but hit just 37% from the field  Monday night.  The team that led the nation in rebounding margin was beaten on the boards by two (and by seven in the second half).  The Huskies zone collapsed on Terrapin center Brionna Jones effectively, holding the 67% shooter to 2 for 7 on the night.  With Jones neutralized, 18 of their 36 first half shots were from three point range.  Even though this team ranks in the top ten in Division I from outside the arc, they shouldn’t be airing it up that much from downtown.  Maryland did a nice job trying to contain Washington’s Kelsey Plum (32 points but on 8-of-24 shooting)…and the Huskies main weapon picked up a fair amount of her points in the fourth quarter at the line when the Terps had to foul.

After two straight regional titles, Monday was a tough ending for the senior class of Brene Moseley, Malina Howard, Tierney Pfirman and Chloe Pavlech.  Nary a superstar in the mix, but four quality players who are necessary to a successful program.   While First Team All-Big Ten players Brionna Jones (led nation in field goal percentage and was second in the conference in rebounding) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (led nation in 3-point shooting and a force of nature on both ends of the floor) return with sophomore sharpshooter Kristen Confroy, there will be seven newcomers:  a six freshman class that’s ranked near the top of the country in quality and quantity plus a transfer.  Back to the gym…